Don Potter

About Don Potter

In a white two-story farmhouse in upstate New York there was a gathering of oldtimers. They were farmers by day and musicians by night. Carrying their prized instruments under their arms in a wide variety of cases, they came up on the back porch of an old house single file.

The time was mid-winter, about 7 p.m., and it was dark and cold outside, but the wood-burning furnace was stoked up. It got too hot in the house when a lot of people were there so the side door was opened. Ice-cold air, mixed with the heat of many bodies, would collect on the uninsulated windows and freeze in minutes. What a painting. They took positions all over the living room and into the dining room because the upright piano was there. They sat on straight-back chairs brought in from the kitchen. The large opening between the rooms served as a place to stand if you wanted to hear all the players. Gaius Truman Potter, usually referred to as "GT," was the host. He played the fiddle and the washboard. The correct way to play the washboard was to put sewing thimbles on the fingers of the right hand and scratch them along the surface in rhythm with the song. His son Jerry had taken violin lessons in high school and learned to read notes, so it was natural for him to lead while others followed these timeless melodies.

Bertha, Jerry's wife, played the piano in the dining room. She had to have her back to everybody because the piano was up against a wall. When she made mistakes the other musicians would just look at each other and smile and never mention it. It's hard to follow the leader when you have your back to him.

GT was proud of his son, though I never heard him say so. It was easy to see a father's pride when tears would well up after Jerry would play something really great. When he realized a tear was about to fall down his face, he would give out with a loud laugh and spit in the pail he always kept at his right side. Right after a good tobacco spit it was acceptable to wipe your mouth and that gave opportunity to wipe your eyes without notice. In that family, love and approval was a loud laugh and a spit in the pail.

The rest of the musicians in the room couldn't always keep up with Jerry so they would sometimes just watch him as he sailed off in areas of music they could not comprehend. This would bring another tear to GT and soon Jerry would say, "come on you guys, jump in there." The music went on well into the night and the shouts and laughter would rise higher and higher.

Just when I thought the frost was dancing on the window to the rhythm of the music, my mother would send my brother and me to bed. I was the younger of Jerry's two sons. Even in the upstairs bedrooms of this old house I could still hear every note my father played. I knew his sound no matter how many fiddles were playing, and couldn't close my eyes until he stopped.

My father was a man that everyone loved, but after an affair with a woman who was enamored by a talented musician, he left home. Mother was mad and hurt at the same time, and decided to bring my brother and I to her mother's until she could get on her feet.

Grandma Green's house was only ten miles away from the Potters' but it felt like a universe. My mother's sister and her husband were also living there with three kids. The old house was now full with five kids, with Grandma Green presiding. Uncle Bill, my mother's brother-in-law, was a gentle man and almost never laughed real loud, though he was constantly making jokes. He seemed to love kids and cared for my brother and I as well as he cared for his own kids. He had another great quality; he was a musician. He not only could play the fiddle but the violin as well. He was classically trained and would have a friend over in the evenings and they would play violin duets. They always sat in the kitchen and closed the door to the rest of the house. I would find a way to get into the room and listen. I only knew the sound of hoedowns or square dance music before now, but this music seemed like it could carry your spirit away. Still, I missed my father's sound.

There was a piano in the living room at Grandma Green's house, and I would try to reach the keys to play when I thought no one was around. Though I was only 6 years old, Uncle Bill felt he could hear something more than a kid banging on a piano. He taught me some chords and would play the fiddle and I would try to follow him. He kept remarking to Grandma Green about how fast I seemed to learn.

One night, while Grandma was washing dishes in the kitchen, and the rest of the kids were spread out all over the house, I started playing and singing a song I heard in the church Grandma insisted we all attend. "Only Believe" was the title. I figured out the chords and sang the only part of the song I could remember: the last verse and the end. The end was cool because it went up high. As soon as I hit the high note at the end I could hear my grandmother shouting in the kitchen, "Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!" and her all-time favorite phrase, "mercy me!" She began to worship Jesus right there at the kitchen sink with her soap-covered hands up and tears in her eyes.

After the praising in the kitchen died down, Grandma came into the living room and shouted upstairs. "BILL, GERTRUDE, come down here!" Grandma called my aunt and uncle the same way she called the grandkids. There was a certain cut on the edge of her voice that let you know she meant business. "We've got to pray for this boy right now," Grandma said to my aunt and uncle. She spent a lot of time on her knees in the living room, as did my aunt and uncle, so they automatically took their places. All three began to cry out to God at the same time. "Oh Lord show us how to pray for this boy."

I got on my knees and buried my face in the remaining chair. After a while they got up and came over to me and laid their hands on me and began to pray. "Oh Lord we give this boy over to You and ask that he might never play music unless it is to glorify You."

I had no idea what that prayer would mean in my life. If I had only been a closer friend to Wisdom it might not have taken thirty years of prayer to embrace a free gift. I experienced a lot of things during the twenty-five years I was in the music business, but I never brought glory to God -- only myself.

Finally, after enough prayer from my grandmother, aunt and uncle, the Lord turned His face toward me and called.Christine and I are grateful to be saved, and the work the Lord has given us to do is dedicated to the memory of my praising and praying grandmother. Also to my Aunt Gert and Uncle Bill who took the watch after Grandma died.

River of Life Discount Christian Bookstore
60 Knowlton Road • Columbia, NJ 07832 USA ☎ (908) 459-9195 •